When he first burst onto the scene as a solo artist who had come out from under L’Vovo’s shadow, Bantwini gave us a debut album and a new sense of style.
His first album, Love, Light and Music, was released in 2010 and with it, he left behind the brightly coloured clothing synonymous with Durban Kwaito artists back then and started donning tailored suits and tight shirts.
Now, four albums later, he sports fitted suit pants and a tight dotted shirt that is buttoned right up to his neck. Commitment.
After releasing his third album, The Fake Book and Real Book: My Music Bible in 2013, he decided it wasn’t enough to just say you want to propel South African music into the rest of the continent and beyond. He had to commit to doing it himself. So he took a job as the A&R head at Sony Music Africa.
“I felt like record companies weren’t willing to give us the same opportunities in the rest of Africa that they give international artists,” he tells me once the waiter has returned with Bantwini’s tomatoes exactly how he wanted them in the first place. (Raw and sliced into circles and never grilled, if you’re interested).
“It was because no one was there to have that conversation with the major record labels,” he says.
“I am passionate about this and so I thought: ‘Maybe if I don’t do it then no one will’.
“So, I sacrificed the height of my career to do that,” Bantwini says.
“It was in an interview where I said I want to be the (former president) Nelson Mandela of music. Some people made a joke out of that. They didn’t understand what I was saying. I meant: Nelson Mandela had a career. He was a lawyer. He had an office he shared with OR Tambo. He had a wife who happened to be a social worker.
“Some professionals - like doctors and lawyers - went into exile and still had careers over in London or wherever they went.
“But Nelson Mandela sacrificed his career and his family. He put his life and career on the side to make sure that eventually, everyone must enjoy the same things he was enjoying.
“So I thought: I’m going to sacrifice my music - at the height of my career - to make sure that every artist can enjoy a career on the continent.”
But Bantwini didn’t need 27 years to achieve some of what he set out to do. In 2015, he had been so far from producing and writing that “I just missed making music, man”. “I remember walking into a boardroom and just realising I was looking at artists doing what they loved and I wasn’t. I wanted to create again.”
The result was Love, Light and Music 2. Interestingly, the 12-track album that features the likes of Tellaman, Refi and of course, Hugh Masekela, opens with a song that is predominantly sung by another person. Bantwini recalls how All Around The World featuring Nana Atta came about.
“I knew that when you play the album for the very first time, I wanted you to just hear this melody,” he goes on to mimic Atta’s flawless voice.
“I wanted it to take a while before the beat changes because I wanted to introduce this new sound that I was coming with.
“I remember sitting in the studio with her because we wrote that song together,” Bantwini says.
“I am a Unicef celebrity ambassador and I thought: ‘I want to make a song about love. But not a romantic love. It had to be an African song that would relate to all of us’.
“I took videos of natural disasters and played them over and over in the studio because I wanted to make a song where if I played these videos on mute and just played my song over the visuals, it would just fit. And it all started there.” Atta also performs all of the backing vocals on an album that is decidedly dance but still different from the South African house tinge that we’ve become accustomed to in Bantwini’s music.
“The BPM had to be between 100 and 123 because I wanted to create African beats meets heavy horn sections meets jazz,” he smiles.
It’s no wonder then that Dancing Trumpet features the legendary Masekela.
“When I was at Maphorisa’s studio, I told him I wanted him to give me a jazzy song,” Bantwini explains.
“He played me this song and he asked: ‘Something like this?’ And I said: ‘Not something like that. That’.” Bantwini made a few calls and the rest is history.
On this album, Bantwini is committed to that dancey afro-jazz he was going for. He’s also committed to the autotune - which he promises he won’t ever go overboard on. But the point is, this artist has been consistent with his commitment. Has his “sacrifice” paid off? We’ll see how far Love, Light and Music 2 travels.
Zakes Bantwini’s Love, Light and Music 2 is in physical and online stores now.